There is strong converging evidence suggesting that developmental dyslexia stems from a phonological processing deficit. However, this hypothesis has been challenged by the widely admitted heterogeneity of the dyslexic population, and by several reports of dyslexic individuals with no apparent phonological deficit. In this paper, we discuss the hypothesis that a phonological deficit may not be the only core deficit in developmental dyslexia and critically examine several alternative proposals. To establish that a given cognitive deficit is causally related to dyslexia, at least two conditions need to be fulfilled. First, the hypothesized deficit needs to be associated with developmental dyslexia independently of additional phonological deficits. Second, the hypothesized deficit must predict reading ability, on both empirical and theoretical grounds. While most current hypotheses fail to fulfil these criteria, we argue that the visual attentional deficit hypothesis does. Recent studies providing evidence for the independence of phonological and visual attentional deficits in developmental dyslexia are reviewed together with empirical data showing that phonological and visual attentional processing skills contribute independently to reading performance. A theoretical model of reading is outlined in support of a causal link between a visual attentional disorder and a failure in reading acquisition. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.